I’ve argued for a while that the Yankees are not going to make a big move this offseason and that the team doesn’t need to. My argument has been that there is no equivalent to CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee available this winter and the Yankees are currently good enough and have enough prospects in the farm system to compete for at least the AL East crown without committing to another nine figure contract. What I’ve yet to do is provide deeper analysis of how the Yankees can improve even if they don’t make a major roster move. Allow that to be my first post of 2012.
5. A full season of a healthy bullpen.
Count me among the Yankee fans who are convinced that Joe Girardi is an excellent bullpen manager. Season after season he manages to get excellent performances out of players like Cory Wade and Boone Logan or spurts of brilliance from Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez. That, however, doesn’t mean that the bullpen has no room to improve. It can always get better. One of the easiest ways for it to improve is if the Yankees get a full season of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera manning innings seven through nine. A lot is made about Soriano’s terrible contract, and terrible it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that Soriano is an excellent reliever who spent a lot of time on the DL last year. If he can avoid that in 2012 the Yankees will have, without question, the best trio of pitchers manning the latter innings of any game.
4. Keeping Alex Rodriguez on the field.
Over the past few seasons a lot has been made about A-Rod’s declining power numbers, and with good reason. In 2007 he posted a career high SLG of .645. His SLG has declined each season after that, until it finally dipped below .500 last season, coming in at .461. The kerfuffle over the homers A-Rod isn’t hitting has overshadowed the fact that with or without the pop in his bat he has remained an excellent option at third base, for this or any team (his bloated contract aside). Fangraphs says A-Rod was worth 4.2 fWAR in 2011, good for third among all third basemen in the game, had he qualified to be among the leaders.
There are plenty of reasons to argue the details of those numbers, but one thing is clear: Alex is still a productive player, even if he is no longer the game’s premier slugger. As a result, far more important than his declining SLG numbers (which were artificially deflated in 2011 from his injury riddled return) are these: 158, 138, 124, 137, 99. Those are the numbers of games Alex has played since 2007. Once durable, Rodriguez has become injury prone. He’s working to get healthy this offseason. If the Yankees can get 135 games of healthy A-Rod, with scheduled resting time attributing for the missing games, as opposed to leg injuries, then the team will improve tremendously. (I’d rate this higher, but Alex has suffered from lower half injuries every season since 2008. Until he proves me wrong, I expect some kind of a leg problem to recur in 2012.)
3. Mark Teixeira remembers that he once was a .300 hitter.
There’s no need to spend more time complaining about Tex’s relatively disappointing 2010 and 2011 seasons. The disappointment aside, Tex remains a good hitter and a great homer threat. He can be more than that though if he figures out how to return to his MVP candidate form from the left side of the plate. Tex will only be 32 years old next season. He should have plenty left in the tank. Furthermore, his weaknesses are isolated to one side of the plate, making them easier to correct. Mark has indicated that he knows of his struggles and wants to improve. If he can, even a little bit, it will be a tremendous boon to the Yankees.
Too much was made of Phil Hughes’ 2010 season. He was great in the first half, really only dominant in the first third of the season, and managed a respectable season line only because of the uneven distribution of his performance. Then he was spectacularly bad in 2011. Despite all that, Hughes is a legitimate big league arm. He may not be a big league starter, but he was excellent in October out of the bullpen. Given the Yankees’ rotation struggles this year Hughes will have every opportunity to prove himself. If the team can harness his potential somewhere it will be a big boost.
Ivan Nova was one of the biggest story lines of 2011. The Yankees have given Phil Hughes every opportunity to prove he is a consistent big league starter. Doing so required them to pull the rug out from under Nova again and again. All Ivan has done during that time is get better and better. If the Yankees can get a full season of the production Nova gave them in 2011 then he will cement himself as a front line member of the team’s rotation.
1. A full season of Jesus Montero.
The Yankee offense doesn’t need anymore juice to be among the game’s best, but what self-respecting Yankee fan doesn’t love a 17-2 ball game? After waiting what seemed like a life time, fans finally got to see what all the hype surrounding Montero was about. Jesus did not disappoint. Over just 69 plate appearances Montero mashed a .421 wOBA and hit four home runs.
For whatever reason, the Yankees seem hesitant to green light a full-time DH role for Montero next season, even though they have no obvious stronger options. Zips projects Montero to hit .271/.333/.486 in 2012, while Bill James projects .289/.351/.505. Either of those would translate to a wOBA of .350 or better. That would mean adding a bat about as good as Nick Swisher‘s to the lineup and would put Montero among the front runners for Rookie of the Year.
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